Emily Young has been hailed as “Britain’s greatest living stone sculptor” by the Financial Times. She was born in London into a family of writers, artists, politicians and adventurers. Her grandmother was the sculptor Kathleen Scott, a colleague of Auguste Rodin and widow of the explorer Captain Scott of the Antarctic.
Emily Young in her home in Tuscany
As a young woman, Emily Young worked primarily as a painter, having studied briefly at Chelsea School of Art and at Central Saint Martins in London, along with Stonybrook University in New York. She left London in the late 60s and spent the next years travelling through the USA, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, South America and China.
Young was already drawn to the manifestation of time, place and humanity in stones she discovered during her global travels. In the ruins of Ancient Rome, the old stone circles of Stonehenge and the remains of lost civilisations throughout Greece, Turkey, Cambodia, India and Afghanistan. Perhaps it was fate then that Emily Young first discovered stone as a medium when a friend left behind carving tools and a marble slab at her house in the 80s.
For Young, there is no greater message than one that spans the infinite cultures and eras that our planet experiences. It is fitting that such raw, eternal and universal messages be expressed through material over three billion years old and with a future similarly everlasting. Today, Young has also established her own enduring legacy with unique free carvings that marry the ancient medium of stone with the human spirit.
Planet, Clastic Igneous Rock, Regents Park
While sculptors in earlier periods told stories about creation, the great wars and beliefs, Emily Young strives to impart a somewhat different significance upon her works. Her timeless carvings in stone focus on humanity’s relationship with the planet and depict the beauty and rarity of life on Earth.
Lunar Disc I, Onyx, Salisbury Cathedral
“To be human involves great beauty alongside the inevitable tragedy,” says Young.
This concept of loss and splendour permeates throughout Young’s work. The artist inevitably resurrects and immortalises each piece of stone, which the majority of us would invariably deem inconsequential without her influence. Yet the sculptor sees each stone not as a canvas, but rather a collaborator in an enriched pairing of her human consciousness and a stone’s geological history.
“The way into the stone, as a free carver, is not knowing what will be happening from moment to moment,” Young states. “The stone reveals its nature, its consistency, its figurations. I am not the stone’s master, and it is not my servant. We work together.”
By imbuing her own thoughts and emotions in each stone, Young allows us to recognise ourselves in this ancestral material and form a stronger bond with the planet we inhabit. As Young sees it “For me, each piece of stone holds the history of the creation of the universe in it,” However, certain stones are more communicative than others.
The artist uses her instinct to detect a stone’s incorporeal potential. She finds her pieces in abandoned quarries in the UK, near her home in rural Tuscany and across the globe. This has led her to unveil works in diverse materials, such as malachite, dolomitic limestone from her local quarries in Tuscany, and even semi-precious stones such as Lapis Lazuli.
Lapis Head I, Lapis Lazuli
Young has always strived to maintain the planet’s natural harmony in her sculpture. This unfaltering respect for the earth has also been the driving force behind her various environmental campaigns.
Working with local fishermen, she combatted illegal trawling off the coast of Tuscany with her eco-protection project, The Garden of the Fishes. Young carved a series of colossal stone heads, which she then dropped into the Mediterranean, successfully deterring trawlers away from the coastline after repeatedly snaring their nets with her works.
Once again in Tuscany, Young joined locals in protesting the opening of a geothermal power station that threatened to disrupt the ecosystem of the Zancona River and degrade its surrounding wilderness. Utilising her free carving skills, Young shaped the stone head of the goddess Cautha, an Etruscan deity, into a stone outcrop along the riverbank on the Amiata mountain (a place held sacred by the Etruscans). This rock carving became a rallying symbol in the local people’s efforts to defend their environment.
“The carving is a focus of the distress and anger shared by local administrators and inhabitants,” Young was quoted in The Times. “A paradise like this is worthy of urgent protection, it is part of the patrimony of all humankind.”
Emily Young and Cautha (Etruscan goddess of dawn), Zancona River near Castel del Piano, Tuscany.
Young’s iconic style has garnered her critical praise alongside public adoration. This is widely attributed to the fact that the universality and timelessness of her chosen subjects engage the viewer with both a visual and intellectual appreciation. Young works in three distinct forms – Heads, Torsos and Discs – combining her traditional carving skills with technology to manifest a unique, serious and poetic presence within each piece.
The primary objective of her sculpture is to bring the natural beauty and energy of stone, including its capacity to embody human consciousness, to the fore. Her sculptures have unique characters due to each individual stone’s geological history and its geographical source.
“You wait to see where the stone will lead you, as in a partnership. You have to deal with surprises as they appear - I won't use stone that is too uniform in its material structure and figuration, I like these surprises. Free carving entails a huge respect for the stone itself, and you need to know what you're doing in terms of carving skills, and drawing.”
Helios, Giallo di Siena Marble
For Young, it is not so much her legacy as an artist, but rather the universality of her creations that matters most. Through the meditative process of free carving in stone, she has discovered a new language in human art that is recognisable to all cultures and throughout all stages of history. Young expertly frames our past, present and future with her reflective forms that prompt us to further explore our own links with Earth.
“These worked stones embody my thoughts and emotions and carry them into the future. Stone carving skills, allied with drawing, embedded in raw rock, can change a feeling into a durable embodiment of both the perfect feeling of being with nature’s beauty and knowing nothing Earthly truly endures.”
Emily Young’s work is in important public and private collections throughout the world. She has exhibited at many prestigious museums, including: The Getty, California; The Imperial War Museum, London; The Whitworth, Manchester; The Meijer Sculpture Gardens, Grand Rapids; and The Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Emily Young with Contemplative Head, Spanish Alabaster, The Victorian and Albert Museum, London.
(South African, Born 1956)
(Dutch/English, b. 1939)
Blumenfeld OBE, Helaine
(UK, B. 1954)
(Italian, B. 1964)
van Drunen, Francel
(British, Born 1951)
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